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The Mortal End 

The excellent final Harry Potter installment has “Deathly” in its title. Don’t expect everyone to survive.

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It´s over, done, finito. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 brings the most successful franchise in movie history to a thrilling, roaring, totally satisfying conclusion. And that’s a feeling that’s going to be shared by Potter book purists and those who only know the movies.

The adaptation road has been a rocky one. Some fans have moaned about all of the rich material that didn’t make it from book to screen, while as recently as last year’s Hallows – Part 1, others complained that the film kept in too much of the damn camping business.

But this one, opening with the closing scene of its predecessor – the gloriously cliffhanging bit of Lord Voldemort finding and raising skyward Dumbledore’s Elder Wand – is literally picture-perfect. Be warned though: If you thought things looked dark last time out, it’s all gotten worse.

Briefly: Harry must kill Voldemort. Voldemort must kill Harry. Harry and pals are out to destroy the horcruxes – objects that contain pieces of Voldemort’s soul – in order to weaken him. What are the Hallows of the title? Why the Elder Wand, the Invisibility Cloak, and the Resurrection Stone. But you knew that, or you wouldn’t have bothered to read this far.

If you’re not familiar with the Potter saga, this is no place to start. It’s an epic film in an epic series, and it does not and should not stand on its own.

But it’s also different from previous entries, and that’s a good thing. Sure, the focus remains on the young wizards Harry, Hermione, and Ron, as well as the ongoing battle between good and evil.

But the yarn gets flung into all sorts of new directions with the introduction of some heavy-duty plot switcheroos, including a couple of flashbacks between major characters that lead to all sorts of revelations.

Warning: There’s a pretty high body count in this film, and I’m not talking about just background extras. At the screening I attended, a young girl sitting to me was sobbing uncontrollably after certain losses. But just as the film has a nice balance of action and character study, it also features some wonderful snatches of humor, ranging from a surprisingly frisky performance by Maggie Smith as the usually stern Professor McGonagall to the sight of the disgruntled Hogwarts custodian sweeping up after a messy battle scene.

The film even takes time to introduce new players.

What? Dumbledore has a brother (Ciaran Hinds)? And it has old friends doing new and unexpected things.

Hint: Keep your eyes on mild-mannered series regular Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis).

Of course, as with every Potter film, there are charmingly old-fashioned visual effects, along with, this time, some spectacularly huge ones, including an amazing onslaught on Hogwarts by hordes of flying, smoke-trailing Death Eaters. But the strongest element is the acting.

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint grew up in their roles and, no surprise, are unable to do any wrong. It’s Ralph Fiennes, as evil-most-foul Voldemort, who really surprises here. He’s so good that at one point, for just a fleeting moment, even under all of that makeup, he actually earns some viewer sympathy.

As it does so often at movies these days, the question of “2D or 3D?” arises. Here’s the deal: It’s used wisely, staying shallow for intimate scenes, going deep when things turn to action. So if you’ve got the extra pocket change, go for the glasses. If not, that additional depth just isn’t necessary.

I will stand by my assumption that fans are going to love this film. But I’ll go a step further. It’s also going to end up on most major critics’ Top 10 lists.

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